Monday, May 05, 2008

My Life, Their Life, and Culutre Shock -An Indian Wedding

Back in Udaipur!
The city is quite and clam. The tourist have almost entirely disappeared, it is considered too hot. I love it.
My days are relatively slow here. The past few nights have been really late ones with the wedding parties so my mornings have melded into afternoons. I am currently sipping my third glass of chi (I have been up for 5 hours and I am only on number 3!) The people here could and probably do, mark their day with these tiny cups of chi. It is yummy and nice even in the heat.
Javed's cousin's wedding was not what I expected. I thought it would take up our days and nights and be some huge crazy party. Not so. It was relatively subdued. I have instead spent many hours of the day at Javed's family's house with his mother and brothers. There are around 68 people in Javed's extended family and they all live in the same house. The house is more of a complex than a home as we know it. Each individual family has a room and a cooking/washing area. Javed's family's home is a room about 10 by 7. They have a few built-in shelves on every wall which is where all clothing, pots, general things are stored. Everything they own is in this room included a tv (always covered by a cloth) on a small table and a large 'bar fridge'. Javed's family is not poor. They are solidly middle class, all five brothers either went or are going to university. Each has a fancy cell phone, and nice cloths. They seem to want for nothing but in comparison to a family of the same status at home, they have nothing, and would appear impoverished.
Javed's family has opened their home to me. I am welcome anytime and his mother is always happy to feed me whatever curry she has going and fresh chapati. Her food is out of this world and she has started to teach me which is very exciting. His parent's English is minimal but we do alright, the brothers on the other hand are almost fluent. They youngest (16) is particularly chatty. I was a little shy and nervous and cultured shocked at first but I am quickly becoming very comfortable in their home.
Yesterday was the day of the wedding. Javed had left me at his home for the afternoon. I sat their on the floor a little bored and a little uncomfortable in my skin while is mother did the washing (man that woman works hard!) and his brothers came and went not doing very much. I did not want to be rude and leave. I hated that I felt dependent on Javed to "come and get me", but I was worried I would offend so I sat their bored until his mother motioned for me to follower her to the brides house. We went down the stairs and entered the bride's family's home (same set up) where there were about 30 women crowded in around the bride who was sitting on the floor in a beautiful mustard coloured sari. The women were singing as they took turns dipping leaves into a turmeric and sandal wood mixture and smoothing this mixture on the bride's cheeks, hands, and feet. A few of the women help a sarong sized cloth over her head, and a man with a high-wattage light and video camera filmed the ceremony. This was cool. The bride smiled up at me (she is stunning), the children stared at me, and the pushy Aunties laughed and scolded the women to keep singing whenever the repeated chant would die down. (Oh how colourful all the women and children are in their saris! I always feel so drab in thier presence.)
This ritual is something that is repeated everyday for the week leading up to the wedding. I was there for the very last one. The turmeric mixture is supposed to cleanse the bride and make her skin nice and shinny for her husband. I wish I had had my camera with me.
Did I mention that this is an arranged marriage? Javed was not sure if they had even met before! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH culture shock!

The wedding.
Well the wedding was interesting. I was dressed up in an outfit of one of Javed's cousin's. I was a bit of a disco ball, I am not going to lie. Why did it have to be white with multi coloured beds? The thing weighed a tone and white is NOT my colour. All I could think off is the white dress with white beading I had tried on in a store a few years ago and how my friend Ani and I lovingly referred to me in that dress as a snow-beast. How I wished I had my midnight blue sari that I sent home a few weeks ago. Well whatever I might have thought of myself in this dress, those feelings were not shared by those I met at the wedding. I was much stared at as I followed Javed's mother through the crowd of 1200 invitees. I should probably have mentioned to Javed that their is another reason Deathe's shouldn't wear white. I was paranoid to eat dinner. Yes it was buffet style and we sat on the grass, and yes, I did drop food on me....I was trying soo hard not to! Many women crowded around me, stared, smiled, spoke in Hindi, and pinched my cheeks. The only word I recognized was Javed's name. At one point someone told Javed he had chosen well. That was all that was translated to me. My face must have been five different shades of red most of the night. I greeted the bride and had our picture taken, Javed and I on either side of her, very formal. (the picture was taken by the wedding photographer so I do not have it) Then another picture with some of the Aunties, the bride, and me. The bride herself was soo much more calm and happy looking than I would have been. She told me I looked beautiful, but who are we kidding... next to her, in her beautiful burgundy and gold sari, I was most definitely a snow-beast. After the groom arrived I joined the bride in her tent enclosure. The bride and groom are not to see each other or to be together when they are married. This is a Muslim Indian wedding, not a Hindu wedding one. I watched as the bride's lovely face was covered with flowers and her head covered with a white cloth. The Imam goes to both the bride and groom separately and asks if they agree to the match and asks the bride if she agrees to a sum of money payable to her from the groom. It was lost in translation if this sum is a gift from the groom like a dowry, or a kind of pre-nup. The woman guiding me through this ceremony moved on to say that no price is enough for a person's life and that she is not happy in her marriage and that she envies my freedom. (what does one say to this?) I told her she has a beautiful daughter. She smiled and shrugged. I fell deeper into culture shock.
After the Imam had gone back and forth a few times they were married. I watched as the groom was congratulated by a massive group of men. Each was hugged three times (kind of like the French kiss for each check but no kisses). He was then taken to eat, the bride remained in her tent. It was time to leave, everything was finished. Those who hadn't eaten would eat, those that had would go home. There was no dancing. No singing. So not bollywood, even if music was playing in the background.
All the women at the wedding looked lovely and were dressed up in their finest. I can't say the same about the men who mostly wore jeans and a new shirt. I went over to say goodbye to the bride and take a few last photos (really just taking requests by elderly women and children). I wish I had taken more photos, but I was shy at first and I didn't want to draw more attention to myself, I also didn't realize it would be over so fast!
Javed's cousin has now left her family. She can visit them, but they no longer play an important role in her life. She has most likely been "adopted" by a male relative of the groom who is given the authority to interfere in the marriage if their are any problem. This adoptive father is the only security she has should things go wrong in her marriage. Her family has no say, no power to protect her. When Javed told me this I felt like I was five years old again and watching The Little Mermaid - crying uncontrollable with my inability to understand why Ariel would want to leave her Daddy. I curled up in my hotel room, hugged the pillow for a long time and told Javed I missed my family, and my Dad.
Javed's mother was married at the age of fourteen. His cousin is about twenty-six, she is university educated. Things do change, but customs are customs, this is their culture.
After the wedding, back in my hotel room, I told Javed that it was so strange and funny to have all these women around me talking about me, pointing to me, and that the only thing I understood was the mention of his name. He told me that they, all this family and relations, thought we were married. That is where the 'he had chosen well' comment came from. SHOCKER! I was so not prepared for that. I burst out laughing. For him this was obvious. I was with him, I was with his mother all night, his mother never goes out to events (her husband does not like it, he did not come), and I was dressed up all fancy. This is the second time I have been married off without my knowledge. At least I got a good reception, and a good report card from the family. I suppose I look like the good quite girl when I am overwhelmed, culture shocked, and I can't speak the language. I know all you who know me well are getting a good kick out of this. Can you picture me? Eyes low, blushing, smiling, and silent? At least Javed knows me for who I am.
I paced the roof of my hotel for hours last night, my inner feminist not knowing how to absorb all I have been witness to and having no outlet, no sisters with me. Javed pushed me to talk about it with him, but he can't imagine what this is like for me. He can't help me process it, he can't relate. I miss my sisters and my strong women friends and when I get home I am sure we will sit down and hash my experiences out.
The reception was the day after the wedding. We all got to greet the bride and groom, eat, get stared at (maybe taht was just me and the newly weds), and go home. Again no dancing. Bollywood let me down yet again! The groom looks a bit hard and unfriendly, I hope this is not the case. Javed shares my thoughts. All we can hope for is that he is good to her and they are happy.
I see all these experiences as a gift and I will take them in and try to process them for the time I have left, even if it does mean very long blog entries.



Anonymous said...

Wow, Linden
What a window into another world. It feels very intense in your writing...what an opportunity to be welcomed into a home to experience this first hand! You really integrate into other cultures so readily....I am looking forward to being part of your processing when you re-integrate into our culture once again.
Keep safe
Love, Mom

Anonymous said...

Here is a big hug:- love Dad.